OK, so it's been some time since I last posted anything on my blog, and since I'm currently in a country which most people know little about I reckon it's a good time to resurrect Malangistani.
First off, what am I doing in Libya? Well, I'm on a short contract (only a month and a half), with a humanitarian organization which, for the time being, shall remain nameless, for a variety of reasons.
To be honest, I knew very little about Libya before coming here. I knew the country had been ruled by Colonel Gadaffi, an Anti-Imperialist, Pan-African and dictator (though he himself claimed to have no formal role in the running of the county). I knew that before the civil war (some people refer to it as a revolution, but since the outcome is not yet clear, I'll be using "revolution" and "war" interchangeably), Libya had the highest Human Development Index ranking in Africa. In fact, even now, after the war, Libya ranks above Turkey, Russia, Brazil and Malaysia on the Human Development Index.
On arrival in Tripoli, I was impressed with the quality of the infrastructure. The airport was reasonably modern and the roads and highways leading from the airport into the city were in good condition. That said, it was obvious that the place had become a little grubby as a result of the war, with weeds sprouting through the paving and rubbish blowing around the city's streets. The scars of the war were also visible in the form of damaged buildings, most notably Gadaffi's bombed out compound, which is currently being used as an illegal dump and has been occupied by squatters and scavengers.
|Gadaffi's compound reduced to rubble|
The most visible sign of change in Tripoli is the proliferation of the old, pre-Gadaffi Libyan flag which consists of three horizontal stripes – red on the top, then black, then green - with a crescent moon and star in the centre. This flag, and the red, black and green colours of the revolution are seen everywhere - daubed in paint on vehicles, lamp posts and on walls, and flying from the rooftops of houses and from the windows of apartments. Since the war, an entire "revolutionary memorabilia" industry had developed, with revolutionary mugs, t-shirts, passport covers, flags, baseball caps, bandanas and watches for sale on street corners across the city.
|The old Libyan flag makes a revolutionary comeback|
My first visit to the centre of the city was on the Thursday after my arrival in the country. Tripoli, known as Ṭarābulus in Arabic, is an ancient port city which was founded by the Phoenicians and later occupied by the Romans, the Turks and the Italians; so the historical and architectural blend is fascinating. There is a definite Mediterranean feel to the place, with stylishly dressed Tripolitans downing shot after shot of espresso served in busy cafes and from little street stalls. The Old City, with its Medina, has a definite Arabic/African feel to it – and is thronged with shoppers, mostly women, on the look-out for bargain clothes, electronic goods and fruit & veg.
|Tripoli's beautiful Red Castle|
The evening I first visited Tripoli, Martyr's Square was packed with families, many of whom had come to enjoy an aerial display which had been arranged to celebrate the reopening of Tripoli's museum in the Red Castle which overlooks the square. A pipe-band played as a military transport plane and a helicopter made repeated low passes over the city and around a dozen paratroopers swooped into the castle trailing the revolutionary flag and the Berber flag from their rigging. Members of the revolutionary brigades, known as Katibas, hung around the square in groups, smiling, sipping espressos and eagerly posing with their weapons for members of the public who were keen to snap photos of their heroes.
|Members of one of the Revolutionary Brigades, or Katibas, in Martyr's Square|
The festival in Martyr's Square had something to suit everyone's tastes – bouncy castles for the children, a marquee dedicated to raising support for the on-going struggle against the Syrian regime and an elaborately decorated white horse and cart with which people could pose for photos. The centre of the square was being used by show-off bikers doing burn-outs and wheelies – I'm told that since the war, there hasn't really been a functional police force – security in Tripoli is now handled by around twelve militia groups, and they don't seem to be too concerned about traffic control.
|A military transport plane makes low passes over the square|
All in all, my first visit to the centre of Tripoli was enjoyable. The atmosphere was friendly, open and festive (people were still basking in the post-revolutionary afterglow), and the city itself seemed to be safe and clean.
|A parachutist swoops into Martyr's Square with a Libyan flag and a Amazigh (Berber) flag|